I love collecting toys to add to arsenal for therapy. It’s actually becoming a bit of a problem, as I have more toys than I have space for in my little office! Still, I can’t help myself when I see something that I know my little friends will love, especially as toys are so useful in teaching kids to communicate. As a parent, however, it’s not really plausible to have the quantity of toys as a practice (both financially and space wise), and you definitely don’t need that many to help a late talker or early language learner. In today’s post, I’ve compiled a list of my five favourite types of toys for therapy. These are the types of toys that I use most often with children between around 12 months and 3 years, because they are fun, effective and do double duty when it comes to targeting different skills.
Cause and Effect Toys
Cause and effect toys are simple toys where a child does something (like hit a button, pull a lever, etc.) which causes the toy to do something (like light up, make noises, move, etc.). These toys are lots of fun and can be used to teach a lot of different skills. The really obvious one you can work on with a cause and effect toy is cause and effect. Children need to understand that they can do or say something and it will have an impact on the behaviour of something else before they are ready to communicate verbally. They are also fantastic for teaching vocabulary like ‘go’, ‘my turn’, ‘more’, ‘push’, etc. They are particularly great for little ones who need a bit of temptation to make communicative attempts. For these little guys I bogart the toy or parts of the toy that make it go and try to elicit the target word before letting them have their turn (don’t I sound mean!)
Some of my favourite cause and effect toys are the Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Gumball Count and Colour Gumball, Fisher Price Giggle Gang toys (great for smacking and crashing) and the Bright Starts Roll & Pop Fire Truck.
Blocks, Duplo and Other Simple Building Toys
Kids love construction toys, whether it’s building them up or, as is more likely, knocking the down. They make great toys for stimulating language skills too. You can target new words like ‘block’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘on’, ‘smash’, ‘push’, ‘broken’, and on and on. You can also use them to work on a lot of preverbal skills too, like joint attention, turn taking and cause and effect.
Any block set you can get your hands on will do, so long as it’s appropriate for your little one’s age and stage.
There are few things kids won’t do for bubbles. I don’t know what it is about a floating circular films of dish soap, but little ones just love them! There are very few preverbal skills that you couldn’t find a way to work on with bubbles. Target skills like joint attention (they will be waiting so expectantly for you to blow those bubbles), cause and effect, turn taking and even imitation (I haven’t met a little friend yet who didn’t at some stage commandeer the wand and copy blowing bubbles). It your little one is in the early stages of word learning, there’s also lots of words you can teach them to say and/or understand, like ‘bubble’, ‘pop’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘go’, ‘more’, ‘wow’, ‘big’, ‘little’, ‘get it’, ‘poke’, ‘blow’, ‘wet’, ‘all gone’ and so much more.
I tend to favour the classic bubble and wand set, but I also use and love automatic and press to blow bubble toys.
Swings, Slides and Other Movement Equipment
Some kids, especially ones who seek sensory input, love whole body movement and the proprioceptive feedback it gives their little bodies. For these kids the best toys can be ones that help them get lots and lots of movement in. You can use these to work on skills like requesting (try blocking the slide or holding onto the swing until you get a word, sign or even vocalisation), turn taking, imitation of movements and more. Vocabulary targets are also only as limited as your imagination, but some common ones are ‘swing’, ‘slide’ ‘see-saw’, ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘climb’, ‘run’, ‘go’, ‘fast’, ‘slow’, ‘high’ and ‘stop’.
You definitely don’t need to go and buy any of this equipment either. If you’re near a park with play equipment, go and do your ‘therapy’ at the park! You can even get creative at home for some movement activities. I’ve seen families use cardboard over the bottom few steps on a stair case to make a makeshift slide, blankets used like a hammock to swing little ones (very carefully!), obstacle courses made from things found around the house, and if you’re an Aussie too you can use your hills hoist to hang from like monkey bars.
Pretend Play Toys
Pretend play is important for language development because it’s role in helping to develop a child’s understanding of symbolism. It’s also inherently fun for most kids to imitate the world around them in their play. Pretend play toys like babies, dolls and stuffed are great for teaching a child to begin to engage in pretend play, starting with simple pretend actions like kissing, rocking or patting, and eventually moving up to things like pretending to feed and groom. For a little one who’s got the pretend play thing down, these sorts of toys can also be awesome for targeting vocabulary, especially with the different food, animal, home and occupation sets you can get a hold of. Because they generally come in sets, it’s also a great chance to teach slightly higher level vocabulary in the form of category labels, like farm animals, zoo animals, fruit, vegetables, etc.
My newest favourite pretend play toy is a wooden set of fruit and vegetables with chopping board and knife I picked up on a recent camping trip. You also can’t beat your basic baby doll or kitchen set.
You are more important than any toy you can buy for your child. While toys are wonderful tools for stimulating communication development, you are the one they will learn their language from. My best recommendation for making the most out of all of the toys I’ve talked about in this post is for you to be involved in the play that happens around them.
What are your little ones favourite toys, and what creative ways do you use them to build communication at home?